HNY, Organizational Ethics, and Justice

It is New Year’s Eve and I’d love to wish everyone a happy one but we all know that for many it will be not be a happy one this year but I hope that we can work through 2021 toward making it so that 2022 has a better chance of being happy for as many as possible.  I’m not intending to publish anything here just for the sake of adding content.  This means that during an off election year I may post stuff frequently OR sporadically depending on the environment at a given point in time.  There will always be important things that could and maybe should be talked about and analyzed but, too, there needs to be time for observation and reflection, as well as space for others to contribute to discussion. I do have one topic I’d like to broach right now apart from my New Year wishes.  

During one of my Public Administration courses I had one of the professors who really acted as a mentor.  One thing I remember distinctly and have recalled and considered many times since then is a point that he made about police.  The main book that we were using in this course was a textbook written by him and a peer of his who was a Chinese scholar.  This was a great combination – to have the insight of a scholar from a country 1) with which we had a somewhat contentious relationship and 2) whose human rights abuses were publicly known. So the fact that the point that I remember that was made by this professor was drawn from this collaborative work makes it more meaningful in my opinion. 

The point was simple.  Well, it was but it was also reliant on two other related points made in the same course. The first preliminary point was about organizational ethics. It is more specifically about ensuring that your organization does not become dysfunctional or even better yet that it is working toward continued improvement.  In order to do this, you must guard against “The Slacker Effect”.  There will always be a few slackers in an organization – it is unrealistic to imagine that there can be zero.  But the main thing to remember is that this gets unmanageable when the percentage reaches double digits – you want to keep it very low.  And this is crucial because the tendency will always be for this percentage to grow as people naturally say to themselves, “He/she doesn’t do any work and still gets paid – why should I do any work then?” So this tendency needs to be managed in one way or another, otherwise your organization ceases to produce enough to be viable.

The second point about general organizational ethics and health was about favoritism (and to be honest this was a topic in multiple classes).  This is regarding favoritism in hiring decisions.  This is obviously a big problem. I once said something to the effect that a blindfold is the greatest justification.  When I said this I was thinking about people saying to themselves (while they are justifying something) that “others are doing it so it is o.k.”.  Looking just at what others are doing is often a way to turn your back on looking (the blindfold) at an analysis of cause and effect. Or as my dad used to say, if someone jumped off a bridge would you do it too?  But on the academic side of the subject, the point is that you absolutely need to make sure in hiring that you are hiring the most qualified individuals for positions – the ones that will lead to a betterment of your organization. 

Of course ‘most qualified’ can be justified or ‘tweaked’ in about every conceivable way so this is obviously dependent on the integrity of the decision maker(s).  That said, one consideration is whether the hire is internal or external to the organization – by too frequently couching ‘most qualified’ in terms of how well the individual already knows the organization (because they are somehow ‘internal’) you are not bringing diverse/new/valuable/possibly even better ideas inside. The mix of internal and external hires should be well-proportioned. 

So back to police.  From the outside, it is clear that organizational ethics in police forces consist of some specifics that may not exist elsewhere.  Being a supremacist may not be as common in other sectors of society, personal safety is a much smaller consideration elsewhere, and an environment with the potential for a clear and present abuse of power is seen nowhere as clearly as it is in the Justice Department. 

That said, organizational ethics and organizational health are imperative in police forces just as they are elsewhere but I would say that they need to be publicly visible in an abundance as a result of these additional factors. 

So the point that one of my favorite professors made, as I said, was simple.  It is that if the police (and without a doubt, on a more general level, the Justice Department) are not acting ethically, then there is little hope.  That is it.  That is the point.  But it certainly can help to give focus because if the department is ethical and healthy, then a large number of wrongs in society can be remedied. 

Injustice/Justice Graphic

One of the things that we do not hear nearly enough about as “resolved through the criminal justice system” is issues of sex trafficking and/or sexual crimes against children.  Highly vulnerable victims are the face of injustice seen in this graphic.  If the work isn’t done to have justice served by the justice department, we are not “no worse off”. Injustice is served and we are actually twice as impoverished as we should be.